In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we’re discovering that sexual assault is a much larger, more widespread issue than we had noticed before. Kentucky schools are not immune.
Maybe you saw the breaking news over a Kentucky high school last week. A woman who used to attend the school accused her former teacher of “predatory sexually grooming” of his students, including her. I’ll let you read the report for yourself, but the accusations are incredibly disheartening.
According to the accusations, the school district did nothing to stop the sexual assault when it was reported back in 2005. Even though the teacher has been under investigation for 5 years now by the Education Professional Standards Board, he’s still working there and has been the entire time.
Obviously, nothing has been confirmed yet, but there are some questions worth asking here. How exactly have our schools been dealing with allegations like these, and how effective have they actually been at preventing and sexual assault?
As it turns out, sexual misconduct in schools is a lot more prevalent than you may think. Last year, 4.5 million students experienced some form of sexual misconduct within their schools, good for 10% of all reported cases. That statistic isn’t limited to physical assault, of course; for example, if a teacher used sexually explicit language with a student, that would’ve been reflected in this data as well.
And of course, most of us are aware of the infamous college assault statistic: 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted at a college age. (As a college-aged woman, I feel like I’m reminded of this fact by every bulletin board on campus.) However, what scares me just as much is the fact that 1 in 9 girls under 18 experience sexual assault as well, many of them are high school students.
This is unacceptable.
First, it’s worth pointing out that these women are more than statistics. Their lives have value and meaning; their stories deserve to be heard and respected. No matter what cruel events may have befallen these victims, they must never be allowed to forget their worth and importance.
But what can be done on the side of a school district? School districts need to have a plan — If, by some terrible chance, a teacher is accused of sexual misconduct, what happens next? If a student comes forward and reports that they’re being assaulted at home or by a peer, how does the school address it?
There should be an unbiased investigatory group that dives into the background of the accused and the victim. Also, there needs to be a safe, secure search to ensure that any person who has been victimized in this case can come forward and share their experience as well. Having a protocol in place does more than simply give the victim a sense of legitimacy; it ensures that the facts will be found and that justice will be served.
Sadly, many cases are simply swept under the rug. Students aren’t always being represented and protected by their school systems. Authorities don’t launch investigations. School leaders fail to question accused teachers. Predators, and their protectors, bury crucial evidence. A school system’s most important element is its students. Student well-being — in and out of the classroom — is crucial to success. How can students be focused in a learning environment if they feel threatened, either at home or at school?
Victims of sexual assault shouldn’t feel reduced to a statistic. They should be heard, understood, and supported. If anything, we need to look at victims and stand with them because sexual assault isn’t just a #MeToo movement. It’s on us, too.